What's in My Round-the-World Travel Bag? (Part 2 -- Keeping in Touch)

2011-02-07 13:50

(Note: If you're shopping for an upcoming trip, this Amazon list contains many of the items that I've mentioned in the series.)

Get away from it all.

It hurts me just to write that cliché. The fact of the matter is that after two or three weeks on the road, you’re going to realize that just because you’re traveling, you haven’t lost your basic need to keep in touch with friends and family, whether it’s your parents ten thousand miles away, or someone you just met at the hostel.

The fact of the matter is, you want a cell phone for your trip. Sure, there’s Skype, and VoIP SIP services like Callcentric, but you’re not going to be sitting at your computer too much. And, unless you’re a professional photographer, you probably want a good point-and-shoot camera. Why not combine the two? There are cameraphones out there now that can take excellent pictures, and that should guarantee that you’ll always have a camera ready the moment you want it.

Right now, the best cameraphone on the market is the Nokia N8. In addition to a 12-megapixel camera with xenon flash, free maps (!) from Nokia, FM radio, MP3 player, and all the usual smartphone tools, it has WiFi. So, if you’re in range of a wireless network, you can get online and even make free calls via Skype or SIP. I used its predecessor, the Nokia N82, to take many of the pictures that you see in my gallery. For many people, you probably don’t need to carry a laptop, as a phone like this will be sufficient.

Now, a lot of American mobile phone companies will tell you that using their locked phones abroad will be insanely expensive, or impossible — and that’s true. That’s why you need to get yourself an unlocked phone like the Nokia N8. These are easy to buy online, and you can switch between networks as much as you want.

In nearly all countries (with the notable exception of Japan), it’s trivially easy to walk into a shop and come out five minutes later with a prepaid SIM card. Thailand is perhaps the best in this regard — every 7-Eleven sells SIM cards for DTAC’s astonishingly cheap Happy prepaid service, which is so English-friendly that they have free translators standing by on the line to help you communicate with the locals! In the UK, you can buy a SIM card out of a vending machine at Heathrow Airport (though you shouldn’t as they’re a rip-off; going to Carphone Warehouse will get you a much better deal). Coming from an American network like Verizon or AT&T, it’s incredibly refreshing to see mobile phone companies who actually make it easy to use their networks. By the way, T-Mobile are the only people who will sell you a prepaid SIM card in the US.

In future posts, I’d like to cover some of the nuts and bolts of various mobile phone companies; for now, check out the excellent resources at PrePaidGSM.net for lots of help.

As a final note on buying an unlocked phone, be sure to note which GSM bands the radio can handle. One of the great things about the Nokia N8 is that it can handle just about any 4G, 3G, or 2G network band: HSDPA (Pentaband) HSUPA 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 Mhz, Quad band GSM / GPRS / EDGE GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900 Mhz. If that’s gibberish to you, rest assured that it means the phone will be compatible with networks in every country in the world.

Sure, it might seem expensive for a phone, but remember that you’re not locked in to any contract! Believe me, these Nokia phones are worth every penny.

There’s obviously a lot to cover on this topic, but for now I’d like to move on. My next topic will be safety gear.

Other entries in this series:
Part 10: The Ejection Seat
Part 9: Notebooks, Journals, and Diaries
Part 8: Guidebooks
Part 7: Money and Banking
Part 6: A Virtual Home
Part 5: Toiletries
Part 4: Clothes
Part 3: Health
Part 2: Keeping in Touch
Part 1: Bags

Andrew Todd

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